Since cementing their iconic partnership with their first collaborative release in 1983, the critically-acclaimed top-selling Pancho & Lefty, country music giants Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard have proven themselves time and time again as two of the most formidable and influential musical outlaws of this century. Their long history of creative chemistry is reignited on their fifth collaboration Django and Jimmie; an album that reads as an ode to classic American country music uncorrupted by the ubiquity of pop music today.
Named for two of the men’s most significant musical influences, jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and legendary bluesman Jimmie Rodgers, Django and Jimmie pays tribute to the titans of the genre, as Nelson and Haggard have become two of the last living ties to that colossal era. In the self-explanatory Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash the men reflect on the former Nelson Highwayman Band member, swapping humorous stories with Bobby Bare about the Man in Black to a toe-tapping, steam train beat. Their upbeat interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright is one of the album’s highlights, with the pair discovering a sagacious depth to the early Dylan classic.
The LP, however, is mostly a collection of newer songs written by Haggard, Nelson and a crew of dynamic songwriters, including Nelson’s longtime producer Buddy Cannon, who contributes to the writing of five tracks. His daughter Marla Cannon-Goodman also contributes her writing chops with the lovely elegance of Unfair Weather Friend, co-authored by Ward Davis. This ode to eternal friendship epitomises the pair’s working and personal relationship, and creates perhaps one of the most beautiful moments on the entire album, with weeping guitar and weary but enduringly handsome vocals.
Also among the fresh tunes is the horn-pierced anthem It’s All Going To Pot, a clever, playful and rollicking social commentary (and endorsement) of cannabis culture. At the other end of the spectrum is the wistful melancholy Where Dreams Come To Die. Written by Nelson, the track details one of life’s universal struggles in a prolonged exhale and insight that reveals the musicians’ experience.
While not all of Django and Jimmie’s tracks are as luxurious and unforgettable as either the pair’s individual, seminal classics, there is an intimacy, vigour and veracity to Nelson and Haggard’s creative partnership that is both nostalgic and retrospective, while remaining profoundly timeless.